Many dogs are afraid of coming to the veterinary clinic, exhibiting their fear as submissive urination, drooling, panting, avoidance, growling, snapping, or biting, explained Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, and Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECEWBM of VCA Hospitals, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. However, aggressive behaviors toward strangers in a veterinary context should not be misconstrued as dominance or status-related aggression. In fact, most dogs show fear-related aggression in veterinary clinics.
Dog Aggression In the Slovak Republic (2015)
Published in veterinary journal Veterinari Medicinina, R.E. Matos and colleagues conducted their research between 2008-2013 through 217 questionnaires. Only 177 owners completed the survey about aggressive and fear-related behaviors. In context-specific situations, 86.4% of respondents said their dog never exhibited aggressive behavior when resting or sleeping (versus 7.9% for seldom, 4.5% for sometimes, 0.6% for usually, and 0.6% for always). 83.6% answered never when their dog is eating (versus 10.2%, 4%, 1.1%, and 1.1%).
However, 6.2% said their dog sometimes exhibits aggressive behavior when chewing on a treat (versus 70.1% for never, 18.1% for seldom, 3.4% for usually, and 2.3% for always). The percentage was higher when the dog was with an unfamiliar male, according to 7.3% of owners who answered sometimes (versus 66.7%, 19.2%, 6.8%, and 0).
But when the dog is with an unfamiliar female, the number went down to 4.5%, as said by owners who answered sometimes (versus 72.3%, 18.1%, 4.5%, and 0). Only 5.6% of owners said their dog sometimes exhibits aggressive behavior when with an unfamiliar child (versus 74.6%, 13.6%, 4%, and 2.3%).
The authors concluded that understanding which factors lead to aggression can aid in adjusting and improving preventive measures. In their research, fear was positively correlated with aggressive behavior in several contexts. However, the findings cannot be generalized to the whole Slovak population, it showed the main characteristics of canine aggression in Slovakia.
Survey Shows the Risk Factors That Predict A Dog’s Fear During Veterinary Consultations (2019)
Petra T. Edwards and colleagues of Plos One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal, found that 41.02% of 26,555 dogs exhibited mild to moderate fearful behavior when examined by a veterinarian and a total of 14.23% of guardians said their pet showed severe or extreme fear during veterinarian examination. Overall, 55.25% of all dogs showed fear in some capacity during veterinary consultations.
Likewise, 46.68% of all dogs exhibited mild-moderate signs of fear in new situations, including potentially the first visit to the veterinarian. Over 35.01% and 37% of dogs showed at least some form of fear (mild-extreme) for touch sensitivity and non-social fear, respectively.
Regarding the factors that explain the variation of fear, a dog’s breed was the strongest indicator of fear of veterinary examination (27.14%), fear of the unfamiliar (26.98%), and touch sensitivity 23.15%). Compared to breed group (18.70%), non-social fear was the only scale that showed the role of the dog (24.35%) and dog source (20.02%) being a variance of fear.
The activities or roles a dog has been involved in was the second strongest predictor of fear of veterinary examination (16.68%) and fear of new situations (26.81%). It is also one of the most important predictors of non-social fear (24.35%).
Additionally, the source of the dog was a large predictor of fear response, with those acquired from a breeder or bred by their guardians having the lowest fear scores when being examined by a veterinarian. Edwards and colleagues concluded that investigating a dog’s background or current veterinary environment along with the aforementioned risk factors is important in understanding a dog’s veterinary experience and ensuring continuity in enhancing dog welfare.
How Do I Help My Dog Overcome Its Fear of Going to the Vet?
1. Participate In A Desensitization Program
You can have your dog undergo a training program for desensitization to help your dog feel more comfortable with visiting a veterinary clinic or hospital. For some dogs and owners, it can be an overwhelming experience.
The goal of the program is to start at the level your dog is comfortable in and gradually progress to more difficult situations while teaching it to be calm and relaxed. It is also important for you to be calm and collected. Your emotions or anxiety can be transmitted to your dog if you don’t keep them in check. Learn to observe your dog if it demonstrates subtle signs of anxiety such as licking, raising a front paw, looking away, or yawning.
2. Find a Fear-Free Vet Clinic or A Vet Who Makes House Calls
More veterinarians are eager to go to your house for routine exams and vaccinations, said Amy Bender of pet website The Spruce Pets. This may alleviate your dog’s fears since examinations are conducted at home. You can also find fear-free veterinary clinics as they have completed extra behavioral and fear-free practice training/certification.
3. Make Trips to the Vet Social
Dogs usually see the veterinarian when they are sick or being vaccinated. Tell your veterinarian that you will be stopping by their clinic several times for a social call. You can request the receptionist to give your dog some treats and friendly petting. That way, your dog may look forward to veterinary consultations.
4. Use A Muzzle
If your dog’s fear leads to aggression, it is recommended to consider using a muzzle during visits to prevent it from biting your veterinarian. Prior to the visit, have your dog wear the muzzle regularly. Be sure to praise your dog.
However, waiting until the day of the appointment may associate the muzzle with the veterinarian, causing your dog to develop a fear of the muzzle. Ensure that your dog’s visit to the veterinary clinic is positive. Don’t force your dog into going to the clinic during social visits. Let your canine take its time to get used to those visits. Praise your dog and offer a lot of treats as it inches closer to the door.
5. Use Medication
Many owners consider it as a last report when their dogs are extremely fearful of the veterinarian. Your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication that you can administer to your dog at home before visiting the clinic. Anxiety-relieving nutritional supplements, pheromone preparations, and other products that aid in anxiety may help.
Owners should exercise patience when helping their dog overcome their fear of going to the vet. They can ask help from their veterinarian or a behaviorist to make their dogs feel comfortable during veterinary consultations.